Do I enjoy an engine building game! Wait… wha is an engine builder? Is it a game where you build engines and the most horsepower wins? No no no… let me explain. It’s a game where you build an “engine” that allows you to get items, cards or objectives faster and better. It’s basically like fine tuning your strategy and allowing you to get more from your cards, actions, tiles or whatever mechanics the game uses. It’s one of my favourite mechanics in games, and I just love the snowball effect and combos that it can create. So here are my Top 5 Engine Building games, and hopefully you will see some of your favourites and some new gems to discover!
Kanagawa looks like a nice serene painting game, until you realize it’s from Bruno Cathala and you know you’re gonna step on some other players toes! The best part is the multi use cards, in that one half is a painting and the other provides you the tools to build your painting engine (ok that was a little much). It’s sort of a race where the player to build 10 paintings ends the game but that doesn’t necessarily mean victory. What I really enjoy about this game is the timing aspect: there are objectives to be had, but if you claim a lower objective from a colour you can’t claim a higher one from the same colour later, so when you complete it you have to make a choice whether you take it then, or take a risk and hope no one claims a higher one before you! It’s a gorgeous game with awesome components, and one I always enjoy playing.
4) Puerto Rico
Probably the granddaddy of engine building games, Puerto Rico should have won the Spiel des Jahers but it settled for being number 1 on Boardgamegeek for like 10 years or something… but it really defines engine building. As you build your buildings which give you extra benefits for your actions, you see your plantations produce more and score more points for your goods as the game goes on. The mechanics have aged well, and while it doesn’t look as good as most games nowadays, it’s a classic that holds up well, and even has a card version which might even be better because it plays faster and smoother, but I’m not putting that on here… because maybe… perhaps… theres something else very similar down this list that does that even better…
Splendor is one simple engine builder, but it does it so well! Buy gem cards with give you more gems on them to use to buy even better cards so you can buy better cards to score points… it doesn’t get much simpler than that! It’s also very easy to teach, and like Puerto Rico, it should have won the Spiel des Jahres. There’s a lot of great engine building games on this list, but if you’re newer to games, I can’t think of a better game to try then Splendor. I play a lot of games, and I’m always willing to go back and play this modern classic
It just came out this year, and it was massively hyped, and you know what? It lived up to it all, and it’s already one of the best engine building games ever made. Not only does it look completely stunning, educational (yes, you can learn about birds as you play it!), but it plays great too. As you build your bird army (ok, you’re attracting birds to your wildlife sanctuary but building a bird army sounds cooler), they make your basic actions way more powerful and even though you lose an action token each round, your actions become even better so theres a complete balance to it. Build it right, and you can be the bird king! Ok, thats not the point of the game, but if one game ever lives up to its massive hype, Wingspan is it for sure.
1) Race for the Galaxy
Alright, here is the reason I didn’t include San Juan (aka Puerto Rico: The Card Game) on this list… because there is a better version of it out there, and its called Race for the Galaxy. The only issue with it is… it’s one tough game to learn. There’s a ton of iconography, and it’s not always clear and for your first few games you’ll be pretty much checking what each card does multiple times. But… once you figure it out, there’s really nothing like it out there. It has role selection, and the cards you play in front of you give you extra actions for some roles, and help you conquer some planets through military strenght, or produce resources… the possibilities are endless. Throw in one awesome expansion, and theres even more possibilities to be had. It can be a daunting task to learn, but it’s one of the best gaming experiences out there!
There you have it, 5 awesome engine building games. If you haven’t had a chance to play any of them, hopefully you’re able to find a great game there for your next game night. and if some of your favourites are on there, or have any other engine builders you love, feel free to sound off in the comments!